Hoarding was reclassified in the 2013 publication of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a condition.
Few mental disorders are more misunderstood than hoarding. Although hoarding seldom causes distress to the hoarder themselves (although it is often connected to other mental health problems that do), hoarders face vilification from neighbours, local councils, and landlords. Family members also become very distressed because they see their loved one living in clutter and feel helpless to assist them.
Hoarders often face eviction from their home. However, under the Equality Act 2010 (the Act), section 6(1) may provide Solicitors defending those facing eviction for hoarding with an argument against the landlord’s right to possession. Under section 35 (1) of the Act, a person with a disability cannot be discriminated against via eviction because of their disability.
Before examining the law, it is crucial to understand what hoarding is.
What is hoarding?
Hoarding is when a person keeps a large number of possessions and cannot throw anything away. Individual rooms or their entire home and even garden become swamped in large amounts of stuff.
If loved ones come into the house and try to tidy up and throw things away, a person suffering from hoarding may become upset. In many cases, hoarders hold down jobs, pay bills, and function well in society.
Things that can be hoarded include knick-knacks, cardboard, newspapers, rubbish, and animals.
Hoarding and collecting are different, although the differentiation between them can be blurry. Collectors tend to be organised and can part with items if they no longer serve a purpose. This is not the case with most hoarders and the clutter they accumulate and disorganisation they live in can disrupt their lives and the lives of others.
In severe cases, hoarding produces health risks from infestations, falls, fires, and an inability to cook or eat in the home.
Is hoarding linked with other mental health issues?
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, hoarding can be a disorder in its own right or linked with other mental health problems such as:
- Depression and anxiety
- Bipolar disorder
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Learning disabilities
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Are a hoarding disorder and OCD the same?
For many years, hoarding was considered a form of OCD, and in some cases, OCD patients do hoard for specific health reasons and/or anxieties. However, hoarding was reclassified in the 2013 publication of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a condition in its own right.
How can hoarding be classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010?
Under section 6(1) of the Act, a person is classed as having a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment and the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on that person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
There is also a more general concept of “disability discrimination” defined by section 15;
“(1) A person (A) discriminates against a disabled person if –
(a) A treats B unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of B’s disability, and
(b) A cannot show that the treatment is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply if A shows that A did not know, and could not reasonably have been expected to know, that B had the disability.”
Concerning housing and hoarding, the Act places a duty on all public authorities to:
- Have due regard, when carrying out their functions by taking steps into account of a disabled person’s disabilities, even where that involves treating disabled persons more favourably than other persons.
- Eliminate unlawful discrimination and unlawful harassment of disabled people.
- Improve the equality of opportunity for disabled people.
Both private and public landlords cannot discriminate on the grounds of disability when they are making an offer to rent a home to someone or when managing the rental of the accommodation.
The Supreme Court, in Akerman-Livingstone v Aster Communities Limited  UKSC 15 examined the correct approach a court should take when a tenant in a housing eviction case raised a defence of disability discrimination under the Act. In delivering the judgment, Lady Hale differentiated between art. 8 claims and claims made under the Act, stating that the latter applies to private as well as public landlords. Furthermore, in art.8 claims, it is for the tenant to show that the eviction is disproportionate. If a claim is brought under the Act, once the possibility of discrimination is established, the burden shifts to the landlord to show the eviction is justified.
Lady Hale went on to say at para 31:
“No landlord is allowed to evict a disabled tenant because of something arising in consequence of the disability unless he can show eviction to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. He is thus obliged to be more considerate towards a disabled tenant than he is towards a non-disabled one. The structured approach to proportionality asks whether there is any lesser measure which might achieve the landlord’s aims. It also requires a balance to be struck between the seriousness of the impact upon the tenant and the importance of the landlord’s aims. People with disabilities are “entitled to have due allowance made for the consequences of their disability” (Malcolm, para 61).”
Although the appeal was ultimately dismissed, the Supreme Court decision in Akerman-Livingstone v Aster Communities Limited rejected the idea of a uniform proportionality test for evictions where disability discrimination is a factor.
Obtaining expert psychiatric reports to establish a hoarding disorder or that a tenant’s hoarding is a component of another mental health issue can provide leverage in developing a defence of disability discrimination under the Act, should they face eviction.
Treatment for hoarding disorder
The primary treatment for hoarding is ‘talk therapy’ in the form of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. During therapy, patients will learn to:
- Challenge the thoughts and beliefs surrounding acquiring and keeping items.
- Oppose the desire to obtain more items.
- Organise items so it is easy to see what can be thrown away.
- Work with a professional to declutter their home.
- Improve coping skills.
Anti-depressant medication can help those suffering from hoarding; however, they are most effective for people whose hoarding is part of their OCD.
Charities such as Helping Hands can also assist those who are struggling with hoarding.
Looking for an expert witnesses and medicolegal court reports
Expert Court Reports provides expert witnesses and medicolegal court reports for solicitors, barristers and other agencies including the police, probation services, prisons and third-sector organisations as well as private clients. To arrange an expert report related to hoarding, please call us on 01865 587865 or request a call by completing our online form.